My job: Researcher, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

By Angela McCarthy

Name: Marguerite Hill
Age: 27
Role: Researcher - Resources Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Ministry for Culture and Heritage (www.teara.govt.nz)
Working hours: 40 hours
Average salary: $45,000-$60,000
Qualifications: BA in history and English and BA (Hons) in history from University of Waikato. Masters in museum and heritage studies from Victoria University.

Describe what you do.

I work at Te Ara - an online encyclopaedia of New Zealand. It's rolled out in books around themes, not A-Z like your average encyclopedia.

I am part of a team of about 20, including editors, writers, designers, a copyright administrator and resource researchers. The staff has varied backgrounds in science and history, fine arts, design, Maori and Pacific studies, law and writing.

My job involves researching images, audio and videos to illuminate and illustrate the text of the Te Ara entries. This involves a great deal of archival research, as well as working with other institutions to find appropriate material.

I help create graphs, interactives and diagrams. The job entails juggling a great deal of information and ideas. I also do archival research and general research.

Why did you choose this line of work?

I grew up hearing our family history. I've always been interested in the way people lived and how outside events affect everyday life.

I studied history all through secondary school. At university, I particularly enjoyed resource interpretation and research projects on social history. As I progressed, I became interested in gender history and masculinity and femininity in different contexts.

Your background?

I graduated with a BA in history and English in 2002 and a BA (Hons) in history in 2003. I then did a masters in museum and heritage studies, which I finished in 2005. When I finished university, I was lucky to get contract work. I worked as an assistant collection manager at Te Papa from 2005 to 2007, and started at Te Ara in July 2007.

What was the attraction of doing museum studies?

I had always wanted to be a museum curator, specialising in social history, so I was delighted to find a course available at Victoria University. One of the best aspects of the course is that it includes a large practical component, so we got to work in heritage institutions such as museums, galleries, Historic Places Trust and government departments.

What sort of training or experience do you need?

A background in history prepared me well for things like archival research and understanding sources; the pros and cons of using different sources, where they came from and the purpose behind them.

Research methodology helped me with constructing graphs and using historical statistics. Papers on historical theory opened my eyes to different ways of doing history.

Another useful paper was a public history paper, which looked at museums, books and websites.

Do you need a postgraduate qualification to do this work?

I do think a postgraduate qualification (honours or masters) is almost essential, whatever you do with history.

It shows that you can do more than write essays - that you can do independent research and think critically.

What skills or qualities do you need?

The ability to research a wide variety of topics and sources in a methodical way.

You need creativity and the ability to think laterally.

You need good organisation and time management skills. And you need to be able to use primary sources to express and explain complicated ideas.

Best part of the job?

So far, it's been seeing the finished entries up on the staging site and looking like a "real" website with images, completed videos, sounds and diagrams.

Most challenging part?

Learning quickly. Each week can be quite a different topic to get your head around.

One week, I'll be researching rural recreation and watching videos of axe-men carnivals and, the next week, I'll be looking at water resources and figuring out how to show how aquifers work.

How easy was it to get a job when you first left university?

I worked as a student and as a volunteer at Te Papa as part of my masters degree.

In the museum industry, you often need to volunteer until a paid position comes up.

How would you define success in this job?

The sense of contributing to a successfulproject, which helps make New Zealand culture and heritage accessible and available to a wider audience.

Advice to someone interested in heritage work?

Gain well-grounded research skills and learn about New Zealand history, culture and heritage.

Where would you like to be in five years?

Working in a heritage organisation in a curatorial role.

- NZ Herald

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